Big 12: Nebraska Cornhuskers

National links: Who's No. 4? 

November, 24, 2014
Nov 24
8:30
AM ET
We’re inside of two weeks until Dec. 7, when the College Football Playoff selection committee announces its four picks to appear in the sport’s first national semifinals.

There will be teams left out who can make perfectly compelling cases to be playoff participants. There will be voices raised and criticisms leveled regarding which program truly deserved the final spot in the playoff. This much is a certainty.

But which teams have the best chances of cracking the field? It still seems to be a matter of conjecture beyond the top three teams: Alabama, Oregon and Florida State.
Even though USC still has the top-ranked recruiting class in the Pac-12, things are a lot closer after Keisean Lucier-South picked UCLA over the weekend. Plus, Kansas is looking for positives on the recruiting trail and the Jayhawks have got a big one in quarterback Ryan Willis.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

This week, USA Today, in the latest of its fan index lists, catalogued the top 10 traditions in college football.

Among them, dotting the "i" at Ohio State, lighting the Tower at Texas and rolling Toomer's Corner at Auburn. All fine events, but no list of such customs in the sport is complete without the latest craze: the wait for Tuesday night.

I say that somewhat jokingly, so refrain from the angry tweets. No, I don't really think it's more fun to dream about the details of a five-minute interview with Jeff Long than to decorate an intersection with toilet paper.

But it's close.

So welcome to the fourth of seven Tuesday College Football Playoff poll unveils, where it finally gets real in the selection-committee room.

Why is this Tuesday different? Because after last Saturday, none of the remaining unbeaten or one-loss Power 5 contenders will meet in the regular season or in conference-title games.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

National links: Bias on the committee? 

November, 11, 2014
Nov 11
8:30
AM ET
I have grave news to bring you. The College Football Playoff selection committee is biased.

Yes, the 12-member panel tasked to solve the nation's problems choose the sport's first four-team playoff includes people with real-life experiences, likes and dislikes.

Some of them, apparently, have ideas about the way the game ought to be played and coached.

Take a deep breath and remember, this is what we wanted.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Let’s say you’re a hot, up-and-coming head coach in a Group of 5 league. You have job opportunities in every one of the Power 5 conferences. If you’re picking solely based on title path -- the fastest way to the College Football Playoff -- which conference do you choose?

Here's my ranking of every division in the major conferences, going from the most ideal to join as a new coach to the most difficult. Easiest to hardest. (I’m counting the Big 12 as one 10-team division. It’s a reasonable way to view it since, as with the divisions in the other four leagues, everyone plays everyone.)

1. Big Ten West

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider


In the spring, when quarterback Matt Joeckel decided to transfer from Texas A&M to TCU, the Frogs' coaching staff exhaled.

[+] EnlargeAmeer Abdullah
Eric Francis/Getty ImagesAmeer Abdullah set a Nebraska record with 341 all-purpose yards in a win over Rutgers.
Finally. Gary Patterson and his assistants could move Trevone Boykin to his natural position, receiver, and let Joeckel, who was familiar with a fast-paced offense as an Aggie, handle the transition to the hurry-up, tempo offense.

A funny thing happened during those summer months: Boykin took to TCU's new offensive assistants, playcaller Doug Meacham and quarterbacks coach Sonny Cumbie.

The 6-foot-2, 205-pound Boykin never relinquished the position. He never made it over to receiver.

Now look where we are.

TCU, a program founded on stingy defense, scored 82 points Saturday against Texas Tech. Eighty-two. TCU very much remains a playoff contender, even after its late collapse at Baylor.

And Boykin, after a school-record seven touchdown throws in three quarters, is now in the heart of the Heisman conversation.

“I told people before the year this would happen, that he was going to have this type of year,” Frogs running back Aaron Green told ESPN.com. “Seeing how comfortable he was in the offense, I was like, ‘You’ll see. You’ll see.’”

Boykin now has 24 total touchdowns and just four turnovers and is averaging a healthy 8.1 yards per pass attempt.

Scoring 50.4 points per game, TCU is the only FBS school averaging more than half a hundred. Now’s a great time to remind you the Frogs scored 25.1 points per game a year ago. They went 4-8.

It’s been an incredible turnaround and a recreation of the program’s identity. Credit Patterson for the willingness and adaptability to do it. Credit the hires of Meacham and Cumbie, who should be co-favorites for the Broyles Award for the country’s top assistant coach.

And of course, credit Boykin for growing into the position.

I’ll have Boykin third on my Heisman Watch poll this week. Here’s how the rest of the top five looks as we enter the stretch run for the award:

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Week 6 playoff implications

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
9:30
AM ET
Claim your spot on the couch now. Reserve your table at your favorite sports bar. Buy another TV. Do whatever you gotta do to make sure you don't miss a snap Saturday because this is going to be a good one.

College football has been a well-kept secret so far, as it has been hiding the true identities of teams. Not this week. It's time to play or go home. There are six games between ranked teams. Of the 17 undefeated teams remaining, eight play against each other this week. It's the most relevant weekend the sport has had in regard to the new College Football Playoff.

Here are the games you can't miss, ranked from least to most likely to affect the playoff:

No. 14 Stanford at No. 9 Notre Dame -- Stanford already has one loss, and this is the second straight road trip for the Cardinal. If Stanford loses again, its playoff hopes will be in serious jeopardy but not over, given that it could still win the conference. This game should reveal more about Notre Dame's place in the playoff, as it will be the first ranked opponent for the Irish.

No. 4 Oklahoma at No. 25 TCU -- ESPN's Football Power Index gives Oklahoma a 64 percent chance to win and predicts this to be Oklahoma's hardest remaining game -- slightly more difficult than Nov. 8 against Baylor. If the Sooners can't handle TCU, they'll be on the outside looking in.

No. 15 LSU at No. 5 Auburn -- LSU gave Auburn its only regular-season loss the past year, but LSU has already lost to Mississippi State, which put the Tigers behind in the SEC West race. Considering the rest of LSU's schedule -- and the hole it's already in -- this is a must-win. For Auburn, this is a chance to erase some doubts and make a push from the bubble into the top four.

No. 6 Texas A&M at No. 12 Mississippi State -- Two terrific quarterbacks will be on display in the Aggies' Kenny Hill and the Bulldogs' Dak Prescott, who both rank in the top 10 in total QBR. A&M's stock dropped a bit this past week after it needed overtime to beat Arkansas, but it could be a top-four team if it can survive the state of Mississippi the next two weeks.

No. 3 Alabama at No. 11 Ole Miss -- This is the most interesting matchup of the day. Alabama ranks third in offensive efficiency, and Ole Miss ranks second in defensive efficiency. Neither team has played a ranked opponent, so there is still some margin for error, but the Tide have a chance to separate from the crowded West.

No. 19 Nebraska at No. 10 Michigan State -- Surprise. The game with the biggest playoff implications is not in the SEC West. This Big Ten matchup could knock Sparty out of the playoff entirely. It's one thing to lose to Oregon; it's another to try to make the four-team playoff with two losses and your best win coming over Nebraska in the Big Ten title game. Conversely, a win in East Lansing could vault the Huskers into the playoff conversation. They're the only undefeated team left in the Big Ten, and the toughest game left on their schedule is against No. 17 Wisconsin. If Nebraska pulls off the upset, it's time to take it seriously as a playoff team.
Offensive players dominated the list of top individual seasons at Big 12 schools in ESPN.com’s The Season, with Texas’ Vince Young and Oklahoma State’s Barry Sanders advancing to Wednesday's semifinal round.

Kansas cornerback Aqib Talib is the lone Big 12-era defender who landed on the list as an honorable mention for the Jayhawks. Talib earned consensus All-American honors while helping the Jayhawks go 11-1, including a 24-21 win over Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl in 2007.

Several Big 12 defenders have had stellar seasons since the conference was born in 1996. Here’s a look at other exceptional individual seasons for defenders during the Big 12 era.

[+] EnlargeVon Miller
Patrick Green/Icon SMIVon Miller was too much to handle in 2009, posting 17 sacks.
Lawrence Flugence, Texas Tech linebacker, 2002: The sheer numbers land Flugence a spot on this list. He had 193 total tackles, including 124 solo stops in 14 games during the 2002 season. The Mike Leach-led Red Raiders finished 9-5 with Flugence anchoring the defense and Kliff Kingsbury triggering the offense.

Derrick Johnson, Texas linebacker, 2004: The Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and Butkus Award winner, Johnson made plays from sideline to sideline for the Longhorns during the 2004 season. He finished with 130 tackles (70 solo stops), including 19 tackles for loss, eight pass breakups, nine forced fumbles and two sacks.

Curtis Lofton, Oklahoma linebacker, 2007: Lofton was exceptional during the 2007 season, earning All-American and Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors. He had 157 tackles including 10.5 tackles for loss, four forced fumbles and three interceptions in 14 games for the Sooners. He was the anchor of a defense that allowed 20.3 points per game and 4.98 yards per play as OU finished 11-2 with a Big 12 championship.

Von Miller, Texas A&M defensive end, 2009: The future NFL Pro Bowler was relentless and dominant during the 2007 season. He finished with 17 sacks, 21.5 tackles for loss and four forced fumbles in 13 games. He accounted for 47.2 percent of the Aggies’ sack total (36) during a 6-7 season. His 17 sacks remain the highest single season total in the Big 12 era.

Terence Newman, Kansas State cornerback, 2002: Newman was a nightmare for opponents during the 2002 season, locking down receivers on defense and putting fear into the hearts of defenders on special teams and offense. He won the Thorpe Award and was named Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. Even as offenses avoided him, Newman finished with 44 tackles, 14 pass breakups and five interceptions.

Shaun Rogers, Texas defensive tackle, 1999: The junior was a disruptive force in the middle for the Longhorns, finishing with 27 tackles for loss, the highest total from any Big 12 defender since the conference was born in 1996. He joined teammate Casey Hampton to give UT the Big 12’s top defensive tackle duo that season.

Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska defensive tackle, 2009: The Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, Suh’s 2009 season was second to none during the Big 12 era. Offenses focused on keeping Suh from dominating games yet he still dominated on his way to becoming a Heisman Trophy finalist, Lombardi Award and a lengthy list of individual accolades. He finished with 85 tackles including 24 for loss and 12 sacks.

Earl Thomas, Texas safety, 2009: Thomas proved he was NFL ready with a incredible redshirt sophomore campaign. He was a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award while earning all-american honors with 77 tackles, five tackles for loss, 16 pass breakups and eight interceptions. He helped UT finish No. 1 nationally in interceptions (35) and forced turnovers (37).

Roy Williams, Oklahoma defensive back, 2001: The Jim Thorpe Award winner, Williams left a lasting legacy with his “Superman” play against Texas in the Red River Rivalry, forcing a Chris Simms’ fumble that sealed an OU win. He finished with 107 tackles including 14 tackles for loss, 22 pass breakups and five interceptions.

Grant Wistrom, Nebraska defensive end, 1997: He had a stellar 1996 season but his 1997 campaign should be considered even better. As the returning Big 12 defensive player of the year, Wistrom had 8.5 sacks and 17 tackles for loss and 25 quarterback hurries on his way to Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors for the second straight season. He also earned the Lombardi Trophy in 1997.
So far, it's been an all-Oklahoma semifinal, as the '04 Sooners dispatched '01 Nebraska on Wednesday in our Big 12 BCS-era 16-team playoff.

SportsNation

Which team should advance to the third round?

  •  
    61%
  •  
    39%

Discuss (Total votes: 4,964)

Only one more quarterfinal to go. Remember, you vote to decide who advances. Polls close at 10 p.m. CT tonight.

To the matchup:

(2) 2000 OKLAHOMA SOONERS

Record: 13-0

Final ranking: No. 1

Top player: QB Josh Heupel

Consensus All-America: Heupel, LB Rocky Calmus

First-Team All-Big 12: Heupel, Calmus, DT Ryan Fisher, S Roy Williams, S J.T. Thatcher

Second-Team All-Big 12: QB Quentin Griffin, WR Antwone Savage, OT Frank Romero, LB Torrance Marshall, P Jeff Ferguson

Best wins: No. 11 Texas (63-14); at No. 2 Kansas State (41-31); No. 1 Nebraska (31-14); at No. 23 Texas A&M (35-31); No. 8 Kansas State (27-24, Big 12 Championship); No. 3 Florida State (13-2, national championship)

Losses: None

(7) 1999 NEBRASKA CORNHUSKERS

Record: 12-1

Final ranking: No. 3

Top player: QB Eric Crouch

Consensus All-America: CB Ralph Brown, S Mike Brown

First-Team All-Big 12: Crouch, Ralph Brown, Mike Brown, C Dominic Raiola, TE Tracey Wistrom, DT Steve Warren, LB Carlos Polk

Second-Team All-Big 12: OG Russ Hochstein, P Dan Hadenfeldt, PR Bobby Newcombe

Best wins: No. 21 Texas A&M (37-0); No. 5 Kansas State (41-15); No. 12 Texas (22-6, Big 12 Championship); No. 6 Tennessee (31-21, Fiesta Bowl)

Losses: at No. 18 Texas (24-20)

***

Who should advance: Bob Stoops has had several more talented teams than his 2000 squad. But that group -- week in, week out -- always found a way to win, no matter the circumstance. The ’00 Sooners will forever hold a special place in the hearts of Sooner Nation because they finally took Oklahoma football back to its former glory after several lean years.

But Nebraska was -- at the least -- the second-best team in the country in 1999, and would have played for the national championship had it not dropped a heartbreaker at Texas. The Cornhuskers avenged that Texas loss with ease in the Big 12 Championship, and drubbed sixth-ranked Tennessee by double digits in the Fiesta Bowl. Nebraska played a much tougher schedule than Virginia Tech, which got thumped by Florida State in the national title game, but there might have been some voter fatigue with the Cornhuskers at that point.

With Crouch operating the option, Nebraska had a powerful running game as well as a dominating defense. It’s hard picking against the ’00 Sooners, who were loaded with gamers. But to keep this from being an all-Oklahoma semifinal, I'm going with the Huskers in a mild upset.

Playoff: Second round glimpse

June, 20, 2014
Jun 20
9:00
AM ET
The first round of our Big 12 BCS-era 16-team playoff is done. The opening round featured several surprising -- as well as ridiculous, thanks to you voters -- results. You can click here to see all the results so far, and here to see the original bracket.

We’ll pick back up with the second round on Monday with the 16 seed, ‘07 Missouri, taking on ’03 Oklahoma, the 9 seed.

Here are the rest of next week’s matchups:

Tuesday: ’08 Oklahoma (No. 4 seed) vs. ’10 TCU (No. 12 seed)

Wednesday: ’04 Oklahoma (No. 6 seed) vs. ’01 Nebraska (No. 14 seed)

Thursday: ’99 Nebraska (No. 7 seed) vs. ’00 Oklahoma (No. 2 seed)
Texas and Texas A&M might not be playing one another anytime soon.

But other schools around the league are interested in the prospects of rekindling rivalries that were destroyed by two rounds of conference realignment.

While the Longhorns and Aggies remain at odds, Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt told ESPN.com this week he’s optimistic that he’ll be able to get Texas A&M on the Red Raiders’ schedule down the line again. Hocutt said there has been interest from Texas A&M’s side, as well.

“Hopefully that’s a series that at some point in time that could start again,” Hocutt said. “Is that a game that won’t happen again? No. We’ve had discussions about it. Hopefully we can reengage that in the coming years.”

Oklahoma and Nebraska already have an agreement in place to play a home-and-home in 2021-22. Missouri coach Gary Pinkel has reportedly said he thinks his school will play Kansas again someday.

And West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck, who has already added Penn State and Virginia Tech to future schedules, told ESPN.com he's hopeful he'll be able to revive the “Backyard Brawl” with Pitt at some point, as well.

“At some point we’ll get Pitt back on the schedule,” Luck said. “What I’m trying to do with our nonconference games is stay as regional as possible and rekindle some of our historical rivalries. Penn State is back on the schedule. Virginia Tech is back on the schedule. That game meant a lot to southern West Virginians. The Pitt game meant a lot to northern West Virginians. We’ve continued to play Pitt in many of the sports.

“We’ve both gone through transitions, so it’s tough schedule-wise for both of us. But I think at some point we’ll get Pitt back on the schedule. I see [Pitt athletic director] Steve Pederson every now and then at various conventions. And we’ve had some discussions about that. We just haven’t been able to really eyeball the proper time to get it going again.”
The Sooners advanced yet another team through the first round, as ’04 Oklahoma took care of ’08 Texas Tech on Tuesday with 66 percent of the vote in the Big 12 BCS-era 16-team playoff.

Only two matchups remain in the first round, including ’99 Nebraska vs. ’98 Kansas State in a clash of old Big 12 North rivals. The polls will be open until 10 p.m. Central Time Wednesday.

No. 7 Seed: ’99 NEBRASKA CORNHUSKERS

Record: 12-1

Final ranking: No. 3

Top player: QB Eric Crouch

Consensus All-America: CB Ralph Brown, S Mike Brown

First-Team All-Big 12: Crouch, Ralph Brown, Mike Brown, C Dominic Raiola, TE Tracey Wistrom, DT Steve Warren, LB Carlos Polk

SportsNation

Who should advance to the second round?

  •  
    67%
  •  
    33%

Discuss (Total votes: 3,040)

Second-Team All-Big 12: OG Russ Hochstein, P Dan Hadenfeldt, PR Bobby Newcombe

Best wins: No. 21 Texas A&M (37-0); No. 5 Kansas State (41-15); No. 12 Texas (22-6, Big 12 Championship); No. 6 Tennessee (31-21, Fiesta Bowl)

Losses: at No. 18 Texas (24-20)

Why they should advance: Nebraska came within a hair of playing for the 1999 national title, and would have had a good chance of winning it, too.

The Cornhuskers avenged a close loss at Texas earlier in the season -- which kept them out of the national title game -- by coasting past the Longhorns in the Big 12 title.

The Browns (Mike and Ralph) anchored a tenacious Nebraska secondary, and Crouch broke out with a sizzling sophomore season to share Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year honors with Texas QB Major Applewhite.

No. 10 Seed: ’98 KANSAS STATE WILDCATS

Record: 11-2

Final ranking: No. 10

Top player: QB Michael Bishop

Consensus All-America: Bishop, LB Jeff Kelly, KR David Allen

First-Team All-Big 12: Bishop, Kelly, Allen, WR Darnell McDonald, OT Ryan Young, DE Darren Howard, S Jarrod Cooper, S Lamar Chapman, K Martin Gramatica

Second-Team All-Big 12: DT Damion McIntosh, LB Mark Simoneau

Best wins: at No. 14 Colorado (16-9); No. 11 Nebraska (40-30); at No. 19 Missouri (31-25)

Losses: No. 10 Texas A&M (36-33, Big 12 Championship); Purdue (37-34, Alamo Bowl)

Why they should advance: Kansas State has featured plenty of great teams since the “Manhattan Miracle,” but this was coach Bill Snyder’s best squad.

The ’98 Wildcats finally got over the Nebraska hump, putting them one game away from playing in the national championship. Instead, Texas A&M upset K-State in double overtime, knocking the Wildcats all the way down to the Alamo Bowl, where the hangover continued in an uninspired loss to unranked Purdue.

Still, any team a double overtime away from playing in the national championship should be considered formidable. And this team, led by the Heisman runner-up in Bishop, was most definitely that.

***

Who I would vote for: There’s a strong case to be made for either side here. Both teams just missed out on the national title game, due to heartbreaking losses (Nebraska at Texas, Kansas State in the Big 12 Championship). But when two sides are so close, I tend to look at the quarterbacks. Crouch would go on to win the Heisman two years after quarterbacking the ’99 Huskers. But Bishop almost won it in ’98, finishing second to Texas’ Ricky Williams in the voting. He had a spectacular final season in Manhattan, throwing for 2,844 yards and 23 touchdowns to just five interceptions during a time when high-volume passing was still not en vogue. Because of Bishop, I would have given the edge to the Wildcats in this coin-flip matchup.

Coming up Thursday: (2 seed) 2000 Oklahoma vs. (15 seed) 2012 Kansas State
SportsNation

Who should advance to the second round?

  •  
    42%
  •  
    58%

Discuss (Total votes: 3,034)

In the opening week of the Big 12 BCS-era 16-team playoff, ’07 Missouri, ’03 Oklahoma, ’08 Oklahoma and ’10 TCU advanced to the second round by compiling more SportsNation votes than their first opponents (to see the bracket again click here).

The first round of the playoff continues Monday with a pair of teams that made national championship games in ’01 Nebraska and ’09 Texas. Remember, voting will be open until 10 p.m. Central time Monday.

Now, to the matchup:

No. 3 Seed: ’09 TEXAS LONGHORNS

Record: 13-1

Final ranking: No. 2

Top player: QB Colt McCoy

Consensus All-America: McCoy, WR Jordan Shipley, S Earl Thomas

First-Team All-Big 12: McCoy, Shipley, Thomas

Second-Team All-Big 12: C Chris Hall, OT Adam Ulatoski, DE Sergio Kindle, LB Roddrick Muckelroy

Best wins: No. 20 Oklahoma (16-13); at No. 13 Oklahoma State (41-14); No. 21 Nebraska (13-12, Big 12 Championship)

Losses: No. 1 Alabama (37-21, BCS Championship)

Why they should advance: McCoy didn’t have quite the year he did the season before, but the Longhorns still featured one of the crispest passing games in the country.

The defense in ’09 was sharper too, led by Thomas, who became a star as a third-year sophomore.

Had McCoy not injured his shoulder in the first quarter against Alabama, who knows, Texas might have won the national title.

No. 14 Seed: ’01 NEBRASKA CORNHUSKERS

Record: 11-2

Final ranking: No. 8

Top player: QB Eric Crouch

Consensus All-America: Crouch

First-Team All-Big 12: Crouch, OG Toniu Fonoti, CB Keyuo Craver

Second-Team All-Big 12: RB Dahrran Diedrick, OT Dave Volk, LB Chris Kelsay

Best wins: No. 17 Notre Dame (27-10); No. 2 Oklahoma (20-10)

Losses: at No. 14 Colorado (62-36); No. 1 Miami (37-14, national championship)

Why they should advance: Like the ’03 Sooners, the ’01 Cornhuskers are mostly remembered for how they finished the season.

But Nebraska was dominant through the first 11 games. Up to the Colorado game, the Huskers won every game on their schedule by at least double digits, including a 20-10 victory over second-ranked and defending national champ Oklahoma.

Crouch narrowly captured the Heisman, rushing for 1,115 yards and 18 touchdowns operating out the option.

***

Who I would vote for: The ’09 Longhorns lost in the national title game. But at least they belonged in the game. The same can hardly be said of the ’01 Cornhuskers, who didn’t even win the Big 12 North Division.

This would have been a compelling contrast of styles with McCoy and Crouch, who probably had the two best four-year careers of any Big 12 quarterback. But McCoy had the better supporting cast, and as a result, would be my pick to move on.

Coming up Tuesday: (6 seed) 2004 Oklahoma vs. (11 seed) 2008 Texas Tech

Our Big 12 Mount Rushmore

February, 19, 2014
Feb 19
10:00
AM ET
LeBron James controversially put, of all things, Mount Rushmore in the news last week by suggesting he would be etched in stone one day among the four best in NBA history.

The James story set off a firestorm of other sports-related Rushmores. NFL Rushmores. IndyCar Rushmores. One site even put together its Mount Rushmore of Pro Bass Fishermen.

Not to be outdone, Brandon and I have put together a Mount Rushmore of Big 12 football players.

For those who slept through social studies, the actual Mount Rushmore includes the likenesses of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. The four were chosen not only because they were famous presidents. They were chosen because they were transformational figures in American history.

Washington won the Revolutionary War. Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence. Lincoln freed the slaves. Roosevelt changed American diplomacy.

In keeping with the spirit of the real Mount Rushmore, our Big 12 Rushmore wasn’t just about picking the four best players. It was about picking transformational figures whose impact was far-reaching. And it's just from the Big 12 era (1996-present).

Without further ado, the Big 12 football Mount Rushmore:

Texas QB Vince Young

[+] EnlargeVince Young
Scott Clarke/Getty ImagesVince Young led Texas to its first national championship in 35 years.
Before 2005, Texas was a great program. But it was not an elite one. It had been 35 years since the Longhorns had won a national championship. By contrast, Oklahoma had captured four national titles during that span. Even though coach Mack Brown had turned the Texas program around, the Sooners were still beating in the Longhorns’ heads on the field.

That all changed in 2005, thanks to one of the greatest individual seasons in college football history. Young put the Longhorns on his back, and took them all the way to Pasadena, Calif. The Longhorns destroyed everyone, including the Sooners, with Ohio State being the only regular-season opponent to play Texas within 10 points.

Young was even more spectacular in the national title game against USC. The mighty Trojans had no answer for Young, who threw for 267 yards and rushed for 200. And in the closing seconds on fourth down, he dashed past the pylon for the game-winning touchdown.

Young didn’t win the Heisman Trophy (he should have), but he became the first FBS quarterback to throw for 3,000 yards and run for 1,000 in the same season. He also finally lifted Texas over the hump, taking the Longhorns from great to elite.

Oklahoma RB Adrian Peterson

Just this month, Oklahoma signed one of the best running backs in the country in California native Joe Mixon. Who is Mixon’s idol? Peterson. Who knows how many recruits the Sooners were able to sign the last decade because of Peterson. The number is substantial.

Peterson arrived in 2004 as the Sooners’ most ballyhooed recruit since Marcus Dupree. Texas wanted Peterson badly. And Peterson actually watched the 2003 Red River Rivalry from the Texas sidelines. But even though Peterson dreamed of playing for the Longhorns growing up, he wanted to win more. Peterson’s signing with Oklahoma added insult to injury to its cross-river rival.

After getting to campus, Peterson put together one of the best freshman seasons ever. He rushed for 1,925 yards, leading the Sooners to the national title game. He also finished second in the Heisman voting, even though there was still a stigma against voting for freshmen.

The next two years of Peterson’s career were marred by injuries (even though he still finished with 4,041 career rushing yards). When healthy, he was the single-most dominant force in Big 12 history.

Baylor QB Robert Griffin III

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
Sarah Glenn/Getty ImagesRobert Griffin III won the Heisman Trophy and put Baylor back on the map.
Along with his coach Art Briles, Griffin changed the way people thought about Baylor football. He also changed the way Baylor football thought about itself. Before Griffin followed Briles to Waco in 2008, Baylor football was the laughingstock of the Big 12.

The Bears had not enjoyed a single winning season since before the inception of the league, and had lost 85 of 96 Big 12 games. The facilities were a mess and attendance was so poor, the school rolled a tarp over Floyd Casey Stadium's south end zone bleachers.

But by the time Griffin left, the program had been transformed. He brought the school its first Heisman Trophy and just its second 10-win season.

Griffin’s effect can still be felt in the Big 12. His magical season spurred Baylor to secure the funding for an on-campus, $260-million stadium that will open this fall. The Bears have also been a force ever since, both on the field and on the recruiting trail. In the last three months, Baylor captured its first Big 12 title, then nailed down a top-25 recruiting class. Until Griffin came along, that would have been unthinkable in Waco. It’s now the standard.

Nebraska DT Ndamukong Suh

There have been some great defensive players to come through the Big 12. None come close to matching Suh, who was one of the most menacing defensive tackles to ever play college football.

In 2009, Suh captured the Outland, Nagurski and Bednarik national awards as the nation’s most outstanding lineman and defensive player. He also became the first defensive Heisman finalist since Michigan’s Charles Woodson in 1997.

Spearheaded by Suh, Nebraska also fielded perhaps the greatest defense in Big 12 history. Despite playing in an era of high-flying offenses, the Huskers gave up just 10.4 points per game, the fewest any defense has allowed in Big 12 history.

Facing off against the Big 12’s best offense in the Big 12 championship, Suh and the Huskers imposed their will, and came a controversial call away from toppling the Longhorns. Texas went on to the national championship game, and Longhorns quarterback Colt McCoy still finished one spot higher in the Heisman voting than Suh. But in that game, like every other one he played in that season, Suh was the best player on the field.
With the BCS era ending, we released the Big 12 all-BCS-era team this morning. ESPN.com also put together a national all-BCS-era team, and four Big 12 alums made that illustrious squad:
  • RB: Adrian Peterson, Oklahoma (2004-06) -- Nicknamed "A.D." because he could run "All Day," Peterson set an FBS freshman record with 1,925 rushing yards while finishing second to Matt Leinart in the '04 Heisman voting. Injuries plagued his next two seasons, but he still was a force and rushed for more than 1,000 yards to finish with 4,041 career rushing yards and 41 touchdowns before turning pro early.
  • WR: Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State (2009-11) -- Blackmon joined Texas Tech's Michael Crabtree as the only receiver to win the Biletnikoff twice. In those two seasons, Blackmon put up 233 receptions, 3,304 receiving yards and 38 touchdowns. Blackmon gets the slight nod over Crabtree, because Oklahoma State won its first Big 12 title with Blackmon at wideout, while the Red Raiders came up just short with Crabtree.
  • DT: Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska (2005-09) -- There was no more dominant defensive tackle during the BCS era than Suh. After registering 12 tackles and 24 tackles for loss, he placed fourth in the Heisman voting in '09, and won a host of national awards, including the Outland, Lombardi, Nagurski and Bednarik. Suh too went on to become the second overall pick in the draft.
  • S: Roy Williams, Oklahoma (1999-01) -- Williams was a major part of Oklahoma's revival at the turn of the millennium. He was one of the Sooners' best players on the 2000 national championship team, before winning the Thorpe and Nagurski awards in '01. That year, he also was the Big 12 defensive player of the year and a unanimous All-American while placing seventh in the Heisman voting.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

BIG 12 SCOREBOARD

Saturday, 12/20
Monday, 12/22
Tuesday, 12/23
Wednesday, 12/24
Friday, 12/26
Saturday, 12/27
Monday, 12/29
Tuesday, 12/30
Wednesday, 12/31
Thursday, 1/1
Friday, 1/2
Saturday, 1/3
Sunday, 1/4
Monday, 1/12